Rapid Response: You Don’t Need God to Explain Consciousness

In our Rapid Response series, we tackle common concerns about (and objections to) the Christian worldview by providing short, conversational responses. These posts are designed to model what our answers might look like in a one-on-one setting, while talking to a friend or family member. Imagine if someone made the following claim: “I hear Christians say that God is the best explanation for our experience of consciousness, but I know there are many atheist scientists who disagree. You don’t need god to explain ‘minds’.” How would you respond to such a statement? Here is a conversational example of how I recently replied:

“Here’s the problem:  every one of us experiences consciousness. We usually associate that with our mental processing in our brain.  But if atheism is true, we’re living in a material universe, which means we’re living in a physical universe consisting of nothing more than space, time, and matter, governed by the laws of physics and chemistry.  Can such a material, physical universe produce non-material consciousness?

It certainly can produce a material, physical brain, but is the brain the same as the conscious mind?

I think there are many reasons to think this is not the case, that our minds are not identical to our brain, and there are several ways of demonstrating that. Brains can be weighed and measured, your thoughts cannot, for example.

Many materialistic, naturalistic philosophers call this the “problem of mind” because they recognize the “problem”. It’s hard to explain how a mind could exist if what we really have is nothing more than a material brain.

This is this “mind-body” dualism problem that everyone talks about.  Either we have to reject consciousness altogether as an illusion (and many committed atheists who are at least consistent in their worldview do reject consciousness), and ignore our common experience of consciousness, or we have to redefine consciousness  in a way that defies our common experiences.

But there’s a more reasonable explanation. If we can’t get immaterial, nonphysical consciousness from inside this material “room” we call the universe, is it possible – even reasonable – that there might be an explanation outside space, time and matter? What if there is a non-material Mind outside the “room” of the physical universe that has created us in its image?

If we can’t get immaterial, nonphysical consciousness from inside this material “room” we call the universe, is it reasonable that there might be an explanation outside space, time and matter?
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A cause such as this might explain why we are also conscious creatures, but it would require us to look beyond the material universe for an explanation. That’s why I do think the best explanation for consciousness is a conscious Creator, beyond space time and matter.”

This brief answer was modified from my interview with Bobby Conway. To learn more and watch many other short answers to difficult questions, please visit the One-Minute Apologist website.

For more information about the scientific and philosophical evidence pointing to a Divine Creator, please read God’s Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe. This book employs a simple crime scene strategy to investigate eight pieces of evidence in the universe to determine the most reasonable explanation. The book is accompanied by an eight-session God’s Crime Scene DVD Set (and Participant’s Guide) to help individuals or small groups examine the evidence and make the case.

J. Warner Wallace is a Dateline featured Cold-Case Detective, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, Adj. Professor of Christian Apologetics at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, author of Cold-Case ChristianityGod’s Crime Scene, and Forensic Faith, and creator of the Case Makers Academy for kids.

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